Mortensen shows off gifts in ‘Captain’
“Captain Fantastic” opens with a magnificent aerial shot of the treetops of the Pacific Northwest, a verdant, atmospheric prelude to the sensory plunge about to take place.
In the next scene, we’re on the ground, observing a young deer warily making its way through the foliage; it’s being quietly observed by a young man who, within moments, will have captured the animal and swiftly, solemnly slit its throat. He is then joined by his five brothers and sisters who, like him, have slathered their faces in thick, tarlike mud.
These young savages aren’t the feral creatures of a prehistoric era. Rather, they’re the sons and daughters of Ben (Viggo Mortensen), the principled, independent nonconformist who turns out to be the film’s title character.
His handsome blond features camouflaged behind a bushy beard, Ben and his wife, Leslie (Trin Miller), have been rusticating in the dripping woods with his six kids since the birth of their now-teenage son Bodevan (George Mackay), whose slaughter of the deer is part of a primitive coming-of-age ritual. With Leslie in the hospital, George now oversees a free-range brood of bright, curious, physically brave kids who are as comfortable with a boning knife as they are reading “Middlemarch” while wearing a gas mask.
“Captain Fantastic” joins a small canon of films dedicated to American offthe-gridders, from Sean Penn’s masterful “Into the Wild” to Rebecca Miller’s “The Ballad of Jack and Rose.”
Director Matt Ross delivers a nuanced, lived-in, frequently very amusing contribution to an oeuvre that, at a time of discontent with the political and economic status quo, feels perfect both in its timing and in its affectionately skeptical tone. Just as valuable, he has provided a superb showcase for Mortensen’s particular gifts as an actor of exceptional physical beauty and sensitivity.
“Captain Fantastic” falters just a bit as it moves toward an ending that the filmmaker can’t seem to tighten up. It goes mushy just where a bit of Ben’s own ruthlessness would have been welcome. But even with that hiccup, “Captain Fantastic” leaves viewers with the cheering, deeply affecting image of a dad whose superpowers lie in simply doing the best that he can.